Why to Consider Advertorials versus Going Native

group social media_107151458Thanks to the web and social media we have yet another new advertising term to learn – “Native Advertising.”  The problem is that even those in-the-know don’t know exactly what it is. “The native advertising industry is so new that nobody can agree what it means in the first place,” writes Jack Marshall in his Digiday article aptly entitled Native Ad Terminology is a Mess.

The easiest way to start to understand Native Advertising is to look at its counterpart in the print world  – the Advertorial. In its most basic format, a native ad is a digital ad that promotes something by trying to appear as if it’s not an ad.

So why the new term? Simply put — Advertorials are simple and Native Advertising is not.

What Advertorials and Native Advertising have in common are two shared goals:

  1. To create advertising content/copy that doesn’t appear to be an ad
  2. To create an ad that is closely aligned with people’s expected experience.

The second goal is admittedly jargony as it stems from the web world, but this is what it means: when a reader picks up a magazine or newspaper, she expects to read articles. Hence, advertorial appears as articles. The format of the advertising matches the reader’s expected experience in picking up the print product. The good news is that newspapers and magazines have long-established standards so readers can easily spot advertorials and be aware that they are reading “Sponsored or Paid” copy. Industry studies indicate that  readers understand advertorials are promotional, but like the format just as they like to read ads. Advertorials, when measured, continue to show solid returns for advertisers.

In the digital world the concept of expected experience also is called intended or organic experience. It means creating content that, similar to advertorials, match the viewer’s desired experience when they go on to a specific digital medium. And, here’s where it gets complicated as some come to a digital platform to read articles, others to scan headlines, some to watch videos, and still others to search for information, or listen to music. The format of native ads, therefore, changes for each of these experiences.

The most common type of native ad is a Paid Search Ad on Google. The intended experience is for searchers to see results based on a defined search term or series of words. The organic search results bubble to the top based on a Google, Bing, or other algorithms. The native experience is to see paid ads next to the organic ads that have been strategically placed to entice the viewer interested in the searched term.

Other common examples are sponsored Tweets, and sponsored Facebook posts, but there are many others. Google, Facebook and Twitter provide “closed” native ads – meaning you can sponsor Tweets within Twitter feeds, or sponsor Facebook links within the Facebook news feed.  There are also “open” native ads that run across platforms, but these are too complex to address in one blog post.

Unlike print advertorials, digital native ads are not always clearly marked.  According to a 2013 e-Marketer report: “Native ad spending is growing faster than many other forms of digital advertising.” And an April 2013 BIA/Kelsey study states:  “Native social formats, including video, and mobile-social advertising will be the principal market growth drivers.” But the jury on native ad effectiveness is still out.  Some marketers love them.  Some consumers hate them.

The Walk-away:  Sponsored ads work. It’s why advertorials have been popular with so many advertisers for so many years. But, when it comes to the digital world, the best advice is “Buyer Beware.”  The medium is so new that it’s not yet regulated, and it’s easy to spend big bucks that literally dissipate into air. Until there’s more agreement on what works and what’s ethical, it’s best to stay grounded in advertising techniques that have proven their mettle for all sorts of advertisers.

Not All Ad Positions Are Created Equal

In advertising, not all ad positions are created equal. That should come as no surprise to advertisers.  Every media has its star positions and remnants.

  • Radio morning drive time is valued over all other time slots.
  • In TV, prime time – 7-10pm – is the coveted time slot.
  • For magazines, right-paged ads get more eyeballs than left-page placements, and front of the book or inside covers are clearly premium spots.
  • In newspapers, above-the-fold positions are the“top” spots, but a below-the-fold strip ad on a section front also has extremely high value.

This is all common advertising wisdom, but effective ad placement is not always that cut and dry. Newspaper data, for instance, shows that comics and lifestyle columns are highly read and, yet, most advertisers overlook these key positions when creating their media plans. Don’t try to run next to Dear Abby or Garfield in The New York Times, since the Grey Lady doesn’t carry those features. But if you’re a local psychologist introducing a new service in an area served by a regional paper, an adjacency to Dear Abby or Carolyn Hax, Abbey’s younger counterpart in newspaper advice columns, might be just the ticket for getting the right eyeballs to your ad.

Positioning means just that – the position of your ad. It can include adjacencies to key features, or a “Blue Ocean” spot. For instance, a mortgage financing company should find that a newspaper ad adjacency to real estate listings is both more affordable than an above-the-fold ad in regional news AND more effective due to the readership affinity with real estate listing readers. The same would hold true in an online environment.

A “Blue Ocean” spot is one where other advertisers may not normally appear, giving you an open space, or blue ocean spot, to get your message clearly across without clutter from your competitors. An example of this is a recent real estate ad placed in Hometown, the zoned community section of The Press of Atlantic City, rather than in the real estate section. In this case, the realtor was effectively targeting interested residents from a specific area for attention to a unique property. It doesn’t mean the ad should not also run in real estate, but the positioning clearly set this ad apart from competitors. And that’s the point of all advertising — gain attention towards you and away from competitors.

Ad positioning is both an art and a strategic play. Great positioning means your ad is where  the right people will see, hear or interact with it. But positioning alone doesn’t make for ad effectiveness. For instance, an auto detailing ad in a Sunday afternoon radio hour may be inexpensive, but not worth the dollars paid for it. Why? Radio listenership plummets on weekends except for morning religious shows for the homebound.

No matter the media, great positioning is the result of being in the right place at the right time to reach the right people.

The Walk-away: Positioning is one leg of three-legged stool – with the other two legs always being Reach and Frequency. Just as with a stool, one leg of a media plan won’t give you a strong platform. You need all three solidly in place at all times.